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Empty Words and False Promises: Dissecting President Trump’s State of the Union Address

Posted by on Mar 1, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 3 comments

 

 

Let’s begin with several positive things about President Trump’s first State of the Union address, which took place last night.

First, President Trump’s opening remarks condemning the alarming increase in hate crimes across America — including several antisemitic acts and deadly violence against immigrants — was both timely and decisive.  For the first time in 40 days of this new administration, we finally witnessed the actions of a President, instead of a circus clown.

President Trump’s speech also included a number of specific policy shifts many of us will support if implemented, including liberals like myself.  Some of these proposals include:

Disengaging from military and financial conflicts in the Middle East.  President Trump noted that the amount of money wasted on pointless wars (specifically in Afghanistan and Iraq) could have “rebuilt American infrastructure two times over.”  He’s absolutely correct.  So, let’s quit wasting more time, money, and brave American lives.  Let’s get the hell out of that region once and for all and let those people solve their own problems.  [Note:  Unfortunately, reducing involvement in that region won’t apply to America’s blind support for Israel, which the president tirelessly reiterated last night.]

President Trump is absolutely correct when it comes to the controversial issue of reducing cumbersome federal regulations which inhibit new drugs coming to market and experimental medical treatments which might save lives.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) imposes many absurd restrictions on new treatments, including waiting times that usually take several years.  Here’s a guideline that will streamline things:  If a drug has already been cleared in other industrialized countries and appears to be working well, then fast-track its approval.  Cut out the red tape and allow it into the United States (of course, a federal bill to allow the importation of foreign drugs was shot down last month, with Republicans blocking this proposal in overwhelming numbers).  Moreover, let’s allow so-called “risky” drugs to be used on terminally-ill patients who have no other options and who will most certainly die without some kind of miracle cure.  President Trump insisted that he wants to reduce FDA regulations, and we should all get behind this strongly.  [Note:  He’s absolutely wrong on other FDA matters, such as food safety, which is may also receive lax treatment.  I’m speaking of experimental new drugs, not cutting all regulations across the board, which is the Republican position.] 

The U.S. must make a considerable investment in updating and improving our domestic infrastructure.  This is a longtime Democratic plan (pushed by liberals), dating back as far as the days of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), under Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Democrats have always supported what have been called “make work” projects providing millions of jobs and improving the nation’s roads, bridges, and other centers of transportation and commerce.  It’s nice to see President Trump finally acknowledge what we leftists have been preaching for a very long time — that infrastructure improvements must be a permanent fixture and responsibility of federal government.

_____

Unfortunately, while there were many positives in the speech, President Trump also continued to misrepresent facts and misstate what have clearly been the contradictory positions of his own party on matters of the utmost importance to this country.  Here are several examples from last night’s speech:

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) — All Republicans, President Trump foremost among them, have been screaming and scrambling to dismantle so-called “Obamacare” for the past six years.  Now we see that was nothing more than dog-whistle campaign rhetoric designed to make the Right-wing base wet their pants with excitement.  Now that they’re totally in charge, we’re still waiting for their “beautiful plan” (Trump’s words) to be revealed to the American people.  We continue to wait, and wait.  Fact is, Republicans have nothing to propose.  President Trump even admits publicly that he doesn’t know the first thing about a America’s complex health care system.  Yet, he did spend considerable time slamming the ACA last night, (falsely) saying it’s collapsing (no, it isn’t).  It sounded like just another red-meat campaign speech.  The bottom line is this:  Republicans have nothing on the table that will replace the ACA.  Not a thing.  Many Americans now realize this system needs to be improved, not scrapped.  President Trump is either a liar or ignorant on this topic — very likely both.

Backing NATO — President Trump has openly questioned the role of NATO for the past two years while running for office.  He’s said many times that traditional treaty organization may no longer be necessary.  That might be a debatable position and we should have that discussion.  Yet last night, President Trump completely reversed himself on this issue pledging to fully support U.S. involvement in NATO.  Moreover, he committed at least one laughable gaffe, stating that NATO helped to save the world from fascism during two world wars.  Uh, no it didn’t, Mr. President.  NATO wasn’t formed until 1949, four years after the end of World War II.  Apparently, your speechwriter Steve Bannon needs to take a world history class.

Increasing Defense Spending — What’s the looming global conflict that requires the U.S. go so far above and beyond the bloated all-time record high appropriations for so-called national defense?  We’re already spending more money on boots and bombs and military bases than the next dozen nations in the world — combined!  We’re winding down pointless unwinnable wars in the Middle East (if President Trump’s other pledge is to be believed).  We’re headed towards a more isolationist role in world affairs, by his own admission.  Why in the hell is President Trump proposing to increase military spending by nearly 10 percent?  This is insane, especially given the national debt and the dire need to spend money here are home improving our country, rather than trying to rebuild war zones in the Middle East.  This is madness.

Defeating ISIS — President Trump talks a good game about defeating the terror group ISIS.  On the campaign trail, he pledged to wipe out ISIS within the first 30 days of his new administration.  Well, it’s now Day 41.  What objective to that end has been accomplished?  Has ISIS been defeated yet?  President Trump did approve a disastrous military excursion into Yemen, which resulted in failure.  Just prior to his speech, the president tried to shift the blame to his predecessor (President Obama) and the military for the failure on his watch, which he approved.  What a shameful gutless display of leadership.

Protecting Clean Air and Water — Last night, President Trump pledged to protect clean air and water.  How nice.  Yet, while his mouth was saying one thing, he’s been doing quite another behind the scenes.  He’s vowed to gut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  He already signed an Executive Order which will dismantle the Clean Water Rule, which was instituted during the Obama Administration.  Trump’s deregulation will now allow companies to turn waterways into sewers.  Polluters rejoice!  President Trump is a fraud on this issue, and everyone knows it.

Helping Our Veterans — President Trump’s pledge to take care of America’s veterans is a farce.  Dismissing the fact he held a fundraiser for veterans during his presidential campaign last year, and then skipped out on writing the check to the charity, congressional Republicans have a dismal record when it comes to funding veterans issues.  [SOURCE HERE]

Crime — Once again, President Trump played fast and loose with the facts when it comes to crime.  All statistics reveal that crime has actually decreased over the past few decade.  Yet, from listening to President Trump’s speech one would think there’s lawlessness in the streets.  Violent crime certainly is a problem in many places and this must be addressed.  Yet, several overtures from urban mayors and leaders seeking a discussion with the new administration have been ignored.  Trump and Republicans love to talk a good game when it comes to crime.  But, they’ve proposed nothing in terms of solutions, other than building more for-profit prisons and criminalizing drugs (see new initiatives by the Department of Justice on recreational marijuana use).  President Trump also ignored what is probably the worst public health crisis of our time, which is Opioid abuse and addiction.  Not a single word about that topic was mentioned.  Shame.

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Indeed, President Trump’s speech was noteworthy for what wasn’t mentioned.  Despite rambling on for more than an hour, taking on wide ranging topics, climate change wasn’t brought up once.  Neither was America’s unsustainable reliance on fossil fuels.  The President did do plenty of cheer leading for the coal industry and oil companies, however.

Oh, and while America’s military commitments comprised a significant portion of the speech, there wasn’t a single mention of Russia.  Go figure.

There were also three specific moments during the president’s State of the Union address which left me and many other liberals gasping in disbelief:

— President Trump proposed creating a new federal agency supposedly to operate within the Department of Homeland Security.  This agency will be known as VOICE.  That stands for “Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement.”  This is an utterly appalling idea which brought audible gasps from the audience when it was first introduced in the speech.  Why would the federal government create a new agency that would discriminate based solely, not on the victim of the crime, but the perpetrator of the crime?  What next?  A federal agency designed to protect us only from criminals with brown hair?  What does this absurd proposal say to the hundreds of thousands of actual victims of crimes all across America?  The distinction made for victims of illegal immigrants (a number which is statistically decreasing, by the way) says to all those who were robbed, stabbed, shot, or murdered by anyone other than an illegal immigrant — screw you.  We’re only interested in your case if you were attacked by an illegal.  Otherwise, get lost.  This is a politicized agency based on hate and fear.  It is an appalling idea.

— President Trump’s line about limiting government corruption was absurd and obscene, particularly coming of an eight-year presidency with no scandals whatsoever.  He said, “we have placed a hiring freeze on nonmilitary and nonessential federal workers.  We have begun to drain the swamp of government corruption….”  Again, more laughter from the audience.  Draining the swamp of government corruption would actually mean not hiring Wall Street insiders, political flunkies, and billionaires, which is precisely what this administration has done since taking office.  President Trump continues to use his pups to enrich himself, runs from questions on his international business connections, and still steadfastly refuses to release his tax records.  To utter the words “drain(ing) the swamp of government corruption” is ludicrous.

“The time for trivial fights is behind us.”  President Trump actually said those shocking words with a straight face (which elicited laughter from the gallery).  Trouble was, he wasn’t joking.  He was serious.  This delusional one-man hate-machine, obsessed with tweeting attacks against actresses at 4 am has already lowered “trivial” to subterranean depths.  No politician in my lifetime has engaged in more trivial bullshit.  For this impostor to stand before the American people in the hallowed gallery of congress and preach to us — the American people — about “trivial” behavior is a disgrace.  He should have been laughed out of the Capitol Building for that remark.

_____

Finally, President Trump is either a liar (well, that’s already been established) or else he’s very bad at math.

The President is proposing to increase the size of the military by nearly 10 percent.  He’s proposing to increase funding for veterans.  He’s proposing to build a wall on the Mexican border, which will probably cost about $35 billion.  He’s proposing to spend $1 trillion (that’s with a T-as in trillion) on domestic infrastructure improvements.  He’s proposing not to touch government entitlement programs — including Medicaid and Social Security.  And now — get this — he’s going to cut taxes.

Someone please explain how anyone can propose to increase the federal budget by perhaps 20-25 percent while cutting taxes?

I’m still waiting.

Oddly enough, the press and public reaction to the speech was largely positive.  Afterward, he was described repeatedly as “presidential.” This is the depth of the dungeon which has come to define to appallingly low expectations of the Trump Administration.

The evidence is clear — this was a speech filled with empty words, false promises, and plenty of lies.  Why should anyone be surprised.  Lies and empty rhetoric is something this president has truly become an expert at.  In fact, he’s the best of all time.

 

Writer’s Note:  Technically, this was not a State of the Union address.  However, I’m using some literary latitude and categorizing it as precisely that based on the setting, content, and delivery. 

 

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Revulsion for the Man vs. Respect for the Office

Posted by on Feb 28, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 2 comments

 

 

If someone you absolutely loath was elected President of the United States, if you were to meet that person, would you agree to shake hands?

 

Within a few minutes, President Donald Trump will make his first-ever address to a joint session of congress.

In response, some opposition legislators have announced their intentions to openly rebuke the 45th president.  Some Democrats won’t attend at all.  Others will stand silently in the House gallery and refuse to clap, which is the customary gesture of respect afforded to all chief executives both when they enter and depart the chamber.  At least one Democrat has stated that he will not shake President Trump’s hand, if it’s extended.

That’s what you call a rebuke.

No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, we can all agree on one thing.  American democracy entered unprecedented and uncharted political territory, and the ways things are now headed, the great continental divide may only get worse in coming months and years ahead.  In other words, pretty soon, this might get really, really ugly.

How did this happen?

President Trump has brought this level of ire entirely upon himself.  His outrageous behavior, insulting demeanor, repeated lies, petty bickering, and brazen unwillingness to work with members of the legislative branch (even those within his own party) has alienated representatives on both side of the aisle on Capital Hill.  He’s not exactly been Reaganesque when it comes to charm, either.  He is, to millions, actually billions — a repulsive figure.

This unparalleled rebuke isn’t really partisan.  Party lines don’t explain the intensity of repugnance.  Consider that President Bush was viciously slammed by Democrats, especially during the last two years of his administration, when two pointless wars raged on and the economy finally crumbled into the crapper.  Still, the Democrats always stood up and applauded President Bush at all official and ceremonial events.  He was always treated with respect.  Personal exchanges between partisans were even cordial on every occasion.  Indeed, for all his faults (and they were staggering), most of his political opponents personally liked President Bush — the man.  And so, he was afforded not just common courtesy, but respect because of the office he held and the gentleman he was (is).

During President Obama’s eight years in office, Republicans sometimes took off the gloves when it came to civility.  One attention-seeking Republican congressman even shouted at President Obama during a State of the Union address, eliciting audible gasps from both Republicans and Democrats.  Yet, while Republicans treated President Obama in a vile manner, within partisan circles and when riling up the base, they still afforded the 44th president all the standard courtesies.  They stood and applauded when he entered the House chamber.  They might not have been very congenial behind closed doors.  But at least Republicans acted civil in the presence of the President and in front of the American people.

However, President Trump is a different animal, entirely.  And frankly, I’m not even sure how to react to him.  Many on the Left are also having difficulty coming to terms with this new reality.  The question is — can we revile the man, but still respect the office?  

I don’t know.

Certainly, my personal and professional experience in Washington. D.C. culture strongly influences my view on this.  I’ve spend almost half my adult life living and working in the nation’s capital.  Those years not only enriched my life and afforded me an extraordinary world view, it also exposed me to all kinds of different people with a wide gambit of political ideas.  Throughout my experience in Washington, we were taught to respect those who were in office.  Congressmen were always addressed with the preamble, “The Honorable….”  Political appointees were always afforded some measure of deference.  And, the highest elected official in the land was always addressed as “Mr. President.”  There were no exceptions.  Ever.  Republican or Democrat — the office deserved dignity.  Always.

President Trump makes continuing these proud traditions most difficult.  A man who by all accounts appears mentally unbalanced, who is utterly obsessed with himself, who has displayed unwarranted hostility towards a majority of American citizens, and who is attacking basic rights, protections, and institutions does NOT deserve my respect.  That view is shared by a lot of people, it seems.

I tried hard to give President Trump the benefit of the doubt, at least for awhile.  Like many Leftists, I was initially appalled by the 2016 election results.  But, I accepted them and was fully prepared to move on and make the best of things, presuming Donald Trump the bombastic con-man would somehow grow into the office and come to portend some measure of dignity within the office once held by Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt.

So far, that has not happened.  Until it does, I see no reason to respect either the man, or the office.

For me, as a political traditionalist, what some might even called old-fashioned, as someone with dozens of friends and associates who have been and remain Trump supporters, this isn’t a decision I take lightly.  I do want to believe my elected officials.  I do want to respect them, even those I’m opposed to politically.  I do want to give them the courtesies they would normally be entitled to.

Sorry.  But I cannot give that respect to this man who will walk into the House of Representatives tonight and address the nation.  My respect isn’t a rubber stamp.  It’s not given lightly, nor automatically.  He was given a chance to earn my respect.  So far, all he’s earned is my revulsion.

 

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Insurance Company Loansharking

Posted by on Feb 27, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 2 comments

 

 

Um, no it’s not, you lying-ass stooge!

U.S. health insurance companies are not, according to this early-morning tweet by President Trump, “provid(ing) great healthcare to the American people.”

Insurance companies are, in fact, undermining health care in America.  They’re doing whatever they can to deny coverage to as many Americans as possible, at the highest possible margins to ensure massive company profits — to the exclusive benefit of shareholders and bonus-whoring company executives.

Yes indeed, great healthcare *is* being provided by some extraordinarily dedicated people in this country.   Allow me to mention them now.

They are called doctors.

They are called nurses.

They are called medical technicians.

They are called caregivers.

They are also called researchers and educators.

These are the genuine heroes of American medicine — not an Oval Office crammed with insurance executives, you morally-bankrupt, dim-witted, anti-intellectual prick!

Add up all the hefty salaries ending in lots of zeroes and the expense accounts paid out just to the 13 insurance industry loan sharks who visited to President Trump this Monday morning.  Their average salary rings in at about $14 million, not including all the bonuses and stock options to be paid out.  Then, there’s all the dirty PAC money spent to keep this corrupt for-profit, milk-the-American public system fully in tact.  These cretins are President Trump’s heroes of healthcare, greedy bastards much like himself with no real objective in life other than to cream their sweet margins off the top at the terrible expense of everyone else struggling to keep up.

Meanwhile, all the medical professionals who actually make the sacrifices for their patients — the doctors and nurses — get stuck with massive student loan debt.  They suffer disproportionate levels of family breakups, including divorces.  They endure considerably more stress than virtually every other occupation, working all hours of the day and night to keep us as healthy as possible.

A Tweet from President Trump thanking the real heroes of medicine would have been nice.  A thought or two acknowledging the dedication of those who willingly chose the medical profession would be a noble gesture.

But instead, the self-absorbed clueless rube sitting at his desk in the most powerful office in the land choose to make an absurd statement that it’s insurance companies which “provide great healthcare to the American people.”

The only thing insurance companies provide is higher costs to all Americans and obscene payouts to their executives.  That’s it.  Nothing more.  Nothing else.

 

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My Thoughts on the 2017 Academy Awards

Posted by on Feb 26, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews | 0 comments

 

 

“La La Land” seems like a stone-cold lock of all ages to win the Best Picture Oscar in what’s otherwise been a disappointing year for movies.

The merry musical was the lone sweet cherry piled high atop a giant shit sundae heaping with plentiful box office busts, instantly-forgettable docudramas, mindless futuristic fluff, Star Games, the Hunger Wars, kiddie crack, and several embarrassingly awful films which should never have been green lighted (hang in there, Warren Beatty — I’ll get to you later).

Everything about La La Land” worked for me.  I loved the catchy music, infused with piano and jazz.  I loved the romance.  I loved the two main characters — played by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who were perfectly cast and dazzled with their acting, singing, and dancing.  Call me sentimental, call me old fashioned, but I adored the quirky retro-tale about two struggling dreamers trying to make it big in Hollywood.  I was also riveted by the unknown of what would happen at the end.  Until the final curtain and closing note, we have no idea if Gosling and Stone will end up together as one.  This was a great movie.

“La La Land” received a ton of nominations — and rightfully so.  It deserves to win several Oscars.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is, there wasn’t much else worthy of praise.  Unfortunately, the competition was so weak this past year, that I expect a record low number television viewers (partially due to half the country buying into the anti-Hollywood ruse).  Those who do tune into the 89th annual awards show will be utterly sick of the repetitive speeches from pretty much the same filmmakers over and over again by the time we reach the Animated Short category.

In fact, between the expected Oscar overkill for La La Land,” cringe worthy political posturing from the usual suspects, and the woefully unfunny Jimmy Kimmel doing his very best to remind us why we all miss someone genuinely funny like Billy Crystal, or Ricky Gervais, or Jim Carey who would have done a much better job in their sleep — I don’t expect to make it all the way through Sunday night’s telecast.  That’s really saying something, since I’ve seen (I estimate) 42 out of the last 44 Academy Awards telecasts, from start to finish. [SEE FOOTNOTE ABOUT KIMMEL BELOW]

That doesn’t make me a film critic.  But it does provide the basis of an opinion.  Here are my thoughts on some of the films I’ve seen this year, and many I have not seen, which have been nominated for Oscars.  The envelope of pleasure and pain, please:

“Arrival” — This was a better-than-average sci-fi flick which was greatly enhanced by some marvelous special effects.  That said, there’s no way this film deserves Best Picture consideration or anything else other than a few technical Oscar mentions.  “Arrival” was filled with jaw-dropping plot holes big enough to make a James Bond scriptwriter bust out in hives.  One thing that cracked me up:  If an alien spaceship the size of the Empire State Building really landed in the middle of Kansas and wasn’t able to communicate with humans, wouldn’t the U.S. Government hire more than just one linguist?  Go figure.  I was also annoyed by the bigger story which eventually gets revealed and somehow engulfs the entire previous episode of how the world reacts to invading space aliens.

“Hell or High Water” — Copy cat of the outstanding “No Country for Old Men” this film lacked much originality.  Story about a couple of erratic brothers who turn into wildly reckless bank robbers in dusty West Texas, while they’re pursued relentlessly by an impossible-to-understand local sheriff played by mumbling Jeff Bridges, who’s mouth is filled with so many marbles he could stock a gumball machine.  To be fair — this movie does have it’s moments as a very watchable crime hunt caper.  But in the end, we all know what’s coming, and the conclusion is less than fulfilling.  I can’t think of a single thing about this movie that’s Oscar-worthy.

“Manchester by the Sea” — I hated this movie.  I hated it.  I hated it.  I hated it.  Dreadfully dull and depressing blow-your-brains-out downer of a film about a pathetic loser-janitor from Boston who makes one bad choice after another until the point where we (the audience) have completely run out of patience.  Just jump off a bridge and end this, please.  There’s hardly a character in the movie who’s appealing (aside from the orphaned teen son, who’s excellent, by the way).  Casey Affleck (personifying the same sub-par acting abilities of his more famous brother) becomes the accidental star in this bore of movie — as someone you’d pluck out of shitty job, cast in a movie, and then praise for his authenticity playing common working man.  Hell, any half-shaven truck driver in America could have played this part.  The drug-addicted turned religious nut of a wife is just as bad.  Inexplicably, this film is up for several awards.  I have no fucking idea why.  A horrible movie.

I’m embarrassed to say I’ve not yet seen some movies that were nominated in various categories that look quite decent, and perhaps might ultimately change my opinion of the caliber of films released this past year.  Foremost among these is “Hidden Figures,” the remarkable little-known story about a group of Black female mathematicians who fought prejudice and ended up making great contributions to the NASA space program.  I admit I’d not heard about this story before, so I look forward to seeing the film, which is being praised highly by those who saw it.

Moonlight” also looks like a film worthy of seeing, of for no other reason than it received eight nominations.  “Loving” was on my radar screen earlier when it was released, but didn’t receive as many positive reviews, so I put that on the back burner, until later.  “Lion” looked intriguing.  However, I then saw a film documentary on the actual person who was lost as a child on whom this movie was based.  After being exposed to the real-life tale, the movie didn’t interest me quite as much.

As for movies and actors I’m rooting for strictly as a personal preference, here are my thoughts:  First, “La La Land” can do no wrong.  Anything it wins will be well deserved, especially in the Best Director and Best Picture categories.  “Fences” was the blood and sweat of the always excellent Denzel Washington, who finally deserved and got his chance to produce and direct the movie he’s wanted to make for a long time.  This film probably won’t be called out much when the envelopes get opened; however Viola Davis seems like a worthy choice in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Viggo Mortensen has done some outstanding film work of the years, and he’s among the very best actors working today.  I saw only a glimpse of “Captain Fantastic,” a challenging emotional role for which he’s been nominated for Best Actor.  I’d love to see him win.  Admittedly, this is probably Ryan Gosling’s award on Sunday night, but Mortensen walking onstage would be just as satisfying.

The Best Actress race looks especially intriguing, this year.  Meryl Streep is Hollywood royalty among peers and critics, but she won’t win anything this year for a film what was pretty awful (an inexplicable third remake of a rich English woman who can’t sing).  I have great respect for Natalie Portman and her talent, but would prefer she not win for the title role in “Jackie.”  Please.  Enough of the Kennedy’s — already, especially the over-sanctified JFK period, an average presidency at best which has been so ridiculously overblown, it’s warped our view of history.  No surprise here, I’ll go with Emma Stone in LLL.

I customarily see most of the documentaries and foreign films which are nominated.  But due to timing and logistics, it also takes me a while to get around to seeing all of them.  I’m also one of the very few people who has seen every short and animated film (nominee) over the past three years from the Oscars (there’s a special showing, I’ve attended and written about), but this is typically a post-Oscar endeavor.  Accordingly, I can’t say much about these films, yet.  However, the massive archival undertaking that was “O.J.: Made in America” really stuck with me.  I watched all 8 hours over an extended period, and watched some of it again.  Filmmakers took a subject we all thought we knew well, and yet somehow still managed to make this a riveting detective story, with quite a bit of fresh eye-opening material, not just on the O.J. Simpson trial, but the modern history of race relations in America.  This was an amazing film series that I would describe as a “must-see.”  Note:  Why wasn’t this included in the Best Picture nominees?  Can’t a documentary be the best movie of the year?  Why the bias?

In closing, I’ll give out my own sour grapes award for the worst film/worst performance of last year.  Remember legendary Warren Beatty?  Well, he’s my winner — or make that, loser.  Beatty starred in a dreadful bio-epic as Howard Hughes in the laughably awful, “Rules Don’t Apply.”  Marieta and I stormed of the theater after wasting an hour plus 15, and $24 in cash, so I can’t comment in detail about this garbage other than to spoil the fuck out of it and save anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.  Trust me, I’m doing you a favor.  Beatty, who in real life is age 80, plays Hughes when he’s about 50, which requires applying enough makeup to bronze Donald Trump for an entire month.  Hughes’ (Beatty’s) still got it, though.  Taking his cue right out of 1975’s “Shampoo” when he was at the top of his acting game and managed to bed every hot ounce of female flesh in Hollywood, the eccentric octogenarian has a sexual tryst and then later marries a 22-year-old virgin starlet (which never happened!).  Poor real Howard Hughes.  His grave must be spinning like a top, helped by all those oil drills that made him a billionaire.  This is the worst performance of anyone on screen within the last five years, and that’s really saying something since Adam Sandler has released four movies within that time frame.

 

Footnote:  Credit Jimmy Kimmel on a surprisingly strong performance as Oscar host.  I didn’t expect much, but he delivered.  

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The Tipping Point on Gay Rights

Posted by on Feb 21, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 2 comments

 

 

Last night, I attended a monthly meeting at the Clark County Democratic Party headquarters, here in Las Vegas.

As is regularly the custom, speakers from various organizations show up at these meetings to inform and educate those of us in the audience on important issues of the day.

James Healey was the latest guest speaker.  He’s a progressive activist who also works full time as a casino executive for MGM-Mirage corporation.  Healey previously served as a legislator in the Nevada State Assembly.  He also happens to be gay.

I normally wouldn’t mention that, because it’s no more relevant than if he has blue eyes or brown eyes.  But since our nightly topic of discussion was gay rights, which are now under serious threat by the Trump Administration (and many state legislatures and localities — which lean Republican), his presentation was accompanied by both an added sense of passion and urgency.

Let’s be clear.  To our credit as a nation, American public opinion has evolved rather quickly on the once-controversial topic of gay rights.  Virtually everyone now knows someone who’s openly gay.  Popular television shows and movies feature gay characters, who are usually portrayed in a positive way.  Young people overwhelming see a person’s sexual orientation as a total non-issue.  The stats don’t lie — For the first time ever, a majority of the country believes gay people are entitled to equal rights and protections, including marriage equality.

That’s all a good thing.

After I heard the talk, while driving home, I pondered my own mental and emotional “evolution” on the subject of gay rights.  I’m not proud of this, but as a teenager, I used to engage in the typical pranks of philistine adolescence, which — sorry to say — included making derogatory remarks about those who were suspected to be homosexual.  I used insensitive slurs, including “faggot” and other mean words on regular occasion.  That didn’t make me a bad person.  Those actions were however, a reflection of my ignorance, and to a greater extent — a lack of exposure to the full diversity that makes up the American Experience.

I’m not sure there was any single moment that qualifies as a “tipping point” for me on gay rights.  That is to say, I don’t remember any specific incident that transformed me from the typical brutish-acting macho straight guy into someone far more empathetic and compassionate for people who on other times would have been inviting targets.  Perhaps it was attending college and simply being exposed to new ideas.  Maybe it was getting older and wiser.  Probably, it was working long hours in bars and restaurants, a trade where I regularly encountered people who were openly gay.  That was way back in the early 1980’s, an era that wasn’t nearly as tolerant about alternative lifestyles, as today.  There was also the terrible AIDS scare happening at the time, which certainly didn’t help straight culture to better understand gay culture.

Maturity, I believe, is incremental.  It’s all a gradual process.  Over time, I came to understand that gay rights was to our time as the civil rights struggle was to the generation which proceeded us.  And today, there are other noble causes, and there will me more things to fight for in the future.  The struggle for justice never ends.  There’s always a voice in the dark needing aid and comfort from torment.  Freedoms are an obligation to be protected by all, whether we agree or not with those whom need our support.

What I wonder is this — what made most of us (who are straight) to come around on the subject of gay rights?  Was it watching Will and Grace?  Was it finding out that a friend or loved one was gay?  Was it a personal experience that changed your mind?  What was it?

I think this is a critical question to ask because it provides a list of formulas that are proven to be effective.  If many of us who used to sling cruel derogatory slurs could evolve and ultimately become outspoken advocates of gay rights (which includes many reading these words right now), then we should try to employ those same tactics and with others who haven’t caught on yet in the future.  My belief is this — nearly everyone is capable of being swayed on this issue, dare I say — even conservatives and religious people.  I do believe many conservatives and religious people are good people who want to do the right thing.  Perhaps those who continue to strongly oppose justice and equality for all simply haven’t been approached yet….in the right way.  Our mission must be to find ways to reach them.

To be clear, there is a vocal contingent within the gay activist movement which vociferously rejects the notion of gaining “acceptance” from mainstream society.  Rightfully, their belief is that human rights and legal protections aren’t souvenirs to be handed out by the majority as though they’re providing favors.  In other words, they don’t give a damn whether you approve of them, or not.

Good for them.  Defiance can indeed be courageous.

However, since the potential rollback on gay rights is now very real in this country (and certainly continues to be a monumental problem in many foreign cultures), it would be advisable for those of us who are engaged in the fight to try and better understand on what works, versus what doesn’t.

And so, I ask those of you who wish to contribute to our understanding of this issue:  What, if anything, was the major turning point that transformed you from either opposition or indifference, to being a supporter of gay rights?

Obviously, this question is geared to those who have successfully evolved on this issue.

To those of you who haven’t yet, we’ll get back at you later.

 

[To join the discussion on Facebook, please CLICK HERE.]

 

A final thought:  I would be remiss were I not to point out Mr. Healey’s observation that Nevada, while progressive on many other issues, doesn’t have much to brag about on this issue.  Yet, strangely enough, within the poker culture, gay rights enjoys widespread support.  Many top poker pros who are openly gay, which makes poker way ahead of other competitive enterprises.  That’s something to be proud of.

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A Moral Dilemma — What Would You Do?

Posted by on Feb 21, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, Rants and Raves | 8 comments

 

 

A MORAL DILEMMA:

Something happened today that’s causing me considerable mental anguish.  Perhaps you will help and might offer some advice.

This morning, I went shopping at the local Costco.  While in the parking lot, I noticed a man loading his SUV with several boxes.  He reached into his back pocket and took out his wallet.  Next, he put the wallet on the top of his vehicle, and then proceeded to load remainder of the cargo.

Just as I walked past, the man got into his Hummer, started the engine, and then began to drive away.  The man’s wallet tumbled off the top of his car and landed on the pavement, right at my feet.  I picked the wallet up and tried to flag the man down.  However, he drove away too quickly and I wasn’t able to get his attention.

However, I did notice something quite interesting.  The Hummer had a “TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT” bumper sticker on one side and an NRA decal on the other.  The car sped away as I was yelling for him to stop.

There was only one thing I could do.  I looked inside the wallet and found the man’s ID, along with his home address.  He also had several business cards which listed his phone number.  Also, to my astonishment, I found $870 in cash stuffed inside the wallet.

So, now my dilemma is this.  Perhaps you can advise:

Should I fire the whole wad of cash tonight on LSU +3, or use it to pay some bills?

 

Writer’s Note:  Most of this story is purely fictional.  However, I did shop at Costco today.

 

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America’s Biggest Embarrassment

Posted by on Feb 20, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics | 0 comments

 

 

A SERIOUS QUESTION:

Admit it — he’s America’s biggest embarrassment.

The rest of the world looks at him in bewilderment and wonders how the hell he made it to such a lofty position.

Everything’s so far that he’s done has been a miserable failure.

Nothing he says makes any sense.

Whatever he puts out gets ridiculed by critics.

They trash him unmercifully in the media.

I must admit, that when I watch him on TV, I want to vomit.

He’s not funny.

He’s not entertaining.

He’s a terrible influence on our culture.

I cringe that children might be watching.

Nobody with a shred of self-respect wants to work with him.

He’s toxic for anyone’s future career plans.

He’s never won an award.

His last few projects lost millions.

So, my question is this……

After so many disasters, how’s it possible later this week, they’re releasing another Adam Sandler movie?

 
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Where’s Your Outrage? Where’s Your Decency?

Posted by on Feb 18, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, Rants and Raves, What's Left | 10 comments

 

 

You’re looking at one of the last photos ever taken of James Foley.

He was a war correspondent who reported on the Syrian Civil War.

On August 19, 2014, some 44 days after being captured and taken into captivity by ISIS, he was forced to his knees at an undisclosed location in the desert.  An evil man wrapped in a black turban wielded a mighty sword, lifted his instrument of death towards a gorgeous blue sky, and then thrust the blade violently downward, instantly severing off the head of an American.

James Foley was 40 years old.  [READ MORE HERE]

 

 

You’re looking at a picture of Chauncey Bailey.

He was a reporter for The Oakland Post, who regularly covered events within the African-American community.  Bailey was highly-respected by peers and readers alike for his tireless work ethic.  He was particularly adept at uncovering local corruption and was then working on a story that was particularly sensitive to people known for violence.

On August 2, 2007, Bailey was walking from his apartment to work, just as he did every morning.  While strolling up 14th Street, a lone gunman wearing black clothing and a ski mask approached Bailey and blasted three bullets into his body, which killed the journalist instantly.

Chauncey Bailey was 57.  [READ MORE HERE]

 

 

You’re looking at a photo of Cynthia Elbaum.

She was a correspondent with Time magazine assigned to the war in Chechnya.

Elbaum worked as a photojournalist.  She captured the horrors of that terrible failed war for independence in the breakaway state of Chechnya.  Elbaum was particularly remarkable for her courage, not just a willingness to risk her life in one of the world’s most dangerous regions, but also because she was one of the few female journalists daily in the line of fire.

She paid the ultimate price to bring us news, sending back images that most of us barely gave a glance at, perhaps only for a few fleeting seconds while parsing through an old issue of Time while waiting in a doctor’s office.  We don’t think much of the dangers and sacrifices it took to bring us the things we read and see.  We’re oblivious to those risks taken by the brave.

Cynthia Elbaum was 28.  [READ MORE HERE]

 

 

You’re looking at a picture of Michael Kelly.

He wrote from The Washington Post and The New York Times.

On April 3, 2003, Kelly was traveling in a Humvee along with American troops dispatched to a war zone in Iraq.  The vehicle hit a land mine, and exploded into flames, killing everyone trapped inside — including Kelly.  Thus, he became the first journalist who was killed in Iraq.

Michael Kelly was 46.  He left behind a wife and two children.  [READ MORE HERE]

 

 

You’re looking at the wall of the Newseum’s Journalists Memorial, in Washington, DC.  This is just a partial collection of members of the media who have been killed doing their jobs.

Indeed, this could be a much longer article.  In fact, it could stretch on and on with hundreds of thousands of words.  In all, a total of 2,291 writers, journalists, photographers, cameramen, and other members of the media have been killed in the line of duty.

Two-thousand, two-hundred,, ninety-one.  Let that figure sink in.

The 2,291 gave their lives largely out of insatiable curiosities to which we — the readers and viewers — were the ungrateful beneficiaries.  Rarely thanked, but so often criticized, they trekked into zones where others dared not to travel.  They asked questions others dared not to ask.  They took photo and video of events that were not supposed to be seen.

The least one might expect for this work and those who do their best follow in their hollowed footsteps is — a little respect.

 

 

You’re looking at the screen shot of the tweet that was sent out yesterday by the President of the United States.

He called the mainstream news media, “the enemy of the American People!”

I have received a fair amount of criticism lately for my harsh words and many of the brutal things I’ve said about President Trump.  I recognize that my actions and use of language is not suited for all tastes.  However, as a regular consumer of daily news and someone who has known and worked with a great many dedicated members of the media, I can’t help but be profoundly disturbed by the events I’m witnessing.  I can’t help but get emotional about such a grotesque lack of respect and dignity, by the President, no less.

Where’s your outrage?  Where’s your sense of decency?

 

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55 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Me

Posted by on Feb 7, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 15 comments

 

 

Today’s my 55th birthday.  Okay, that was yesterday.  My 56th birthday is 364 days from now.

Gee, that makes me sound old as fuck.

Save the sentimentality, people, though I appreciate the spirit in which it’s intended.  Birthdays don’t mean much to me.  It’s just another day.  5-5 just another number.  However, this does seem like a good occasion to share some personal stuff with readers.

First, a short commercial message.  I’m asking for money.  Yes, money — as in please make a donation.  I accept PayPal.  There’s an icon on the upper right-hand side of the screen.  Please click that square and be generous.

When I embarked on this (almost) daily blog four years ago, I promised I’d write whatever popped into my head as often as time permitted — and those thoughts would be unfiltered.  But I also made an agreement that I would not allow this website to cost me any money.  I hired a terrific webmaster, Ernst-Dieter Martin, who should take a bow (see his picture on the Emeritus Section, along with a link to his web services).  He’s been with me since Day One and makes sure the site stays up and is free of cyber attacks.  I haven’t paid the webmaster in a while.  So, I’d like to send some cash his way.  So, if you can send $10, $20, or $10,000 — he (and I) would appreciate it.  Thank you for doing whatever you can.

Now, on to my confessional.

There’s no such thing as normal.  We’re expected to be circles and squares.  Reality is, we’re all polygons, with multiple sides.  Here’s 55 things you probably didn’t know about me:

 

1.  I was born in Dallas, Texas on February 6, 1962.  The most famous person also born that exact same day and year is Axl Rose — the lead singer for Guns and Roses.

2.  My parents divorced when I was 2.  My father spent most of his professional career as an air traffic controller.  He was fired by President Ronald Reagan in the infamous PATCO strike of 1982.  My mother worked for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company most of her life.

3.  While growing up, I lived in Dallas, Chicago, and Albuquerque.  I changed schools five times between the grades of 1-6.  Each time we moved, I had to make new friends.  That probably made more into an outgoing person.

4.  I had speaking and singing roles in all four of my high school musicals.  My senior year, I had the lead role in “Bye Bye Birdie.”  Play the guitar badly.  I play the piano worse.  Actually, I don’t play the piano at all.  If I have a great personal regret, it’s that I never learned the piano.

5.  My junior year, I got expelled from high school for drinking alcohol and had to go to an alternative school for troublemakers.  Nonetheless, I was elected Senior Class President the following year.

6.  I’ve never done illegal drugs of any kind, including smoking marijuana.

7.  I earned a B.A. in political science from the University of Texas system, but dropped out of a Masters Degree program after one year.

8.  Right out of college, I tried to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps as an officer, but was rejected for flight school because I’m colorblind.  I have what’s called a red-green deficiency, which is the most common form of color blindness.  About 3 percent of all people have this vision defect, which predominantly afflicts males.

9.  I’m probably one of the very few people who was in close proximity to both the Kennedy Assassination and the events of 9/11.  When I was nearly 2, we lived a few miles from where Kennedy was shot.  39 years later, I lived across the street from the Pentagon, which was struck by an airliner and exploded.

10.  I hate mushrooms.

11.  I don’t like making small talk.  I like discussing serious subjects that matter.

12.  My favorite actor is Marlon Brando.  My favorite actress is Isabella Rosellini.

13.  My spiritual mentor is the late Christopher Hitchens.

14.  I am embarrassingly ignorant in math and science.  I’m ashamed about this, so I’m trying to catch up and learn more, especially about science.

15.  I was born into Roman Catholicism and even attended Catholic school for a time.  However, I’ve been an Atheist since about the age of 25.  Despite this, I still once joined the Knights of Columbus.

16.  I ran for city council once.  I finished third in a four-candidate race.  Just imagine how shitty a candidate the fourth-place finisher was.

17.  I’m passionate about animal rights and environmental protections.

18.  I despise flair bartenders.  I think they should be banned, imprisoned, or shot depending on how fancy they get.

19.  I am trying to become a vegetarian.  Trouble is, most veggie food really sucks.

20.  I made my first bet at the age of 8, losing $1 on Super Bowl V.  I’ve been gambling ever since.

21.  Both of my paternal grandparents were deaf.  My grandfather, an immigrant from Northern Italy, once played minor league baseball and pitched an exhibition game against Babe Ruth.

22.  My grandfather’s name was shorted when he arrived at New York’s Ellis Island.  His real name was DALLAVALLE, which roughly translated means, “from the valley.”  He was born in Rabbi, Trentino (Italy).  The name was shorted to DALLA.

23.  My favorite brand of car is Citroen.

24.  My favorite book is “The Power Broker,” the 1975 Pulitzer Prize winner for non-fiction, by Robert Caro.

25.  Except on very rare occasions, I do not read fiction.

26.  I witnessed the 1989 Romanian Revolution first-hand.

27.  I drink wine every day.  My favorite wine is Gevrey Chambertin, from France.  My favorite white wine is just about anything from the Alsace region of France.

28.  My favorite movie is The Godfather.  The best movie ever made was Schindler’s List.

29.  My favorite sports team is whoever I’m betting on that day.  Aside from gambling, my favorite sports teams are the New Orleans Saints, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Boston Bruins.  I don’t have a favorite baseball team, except that I always cheer against the Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox.  I like to say when the Yankees play the Red Sox, I cheer for a rain out and a stadium collapse.

30.  I’ve met and shaken hands with six out of the last nine U.S. Presidents, including Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump.

31.  I’ve met and spoken with Donald Trump four times.

32.  I once sat in the senate office chair of Ted Kennedy.

33. I’ve been married to Marieta Dalla for 26 years.

34.  My basic philosophy can best be summed up as follows:  If Immanuel Kant, Robert Owen, Karl Marx, Lyndon B. Johnson, George Carlin, Van Morrison, Gloria Steinem, Cesar Chavez, and Sam Harris all had a secret love child — that would be me.

35.  I refuse to eat fast food, unless it’s a matter of life or death, or I’m traveling through West Virginia, which is kinda’ the same thing.

36.  I run 2 to 3 miles every day.  I used to run 5 miles, but that was too much strain on the joints.  The longest distance I’ve ever run at once was 12 miles.  I have never competed in a 10K race or a marathon of any kind.  My father, however, used to run marathons regularly and even competed up until he was 50.

37.  The sound I cherish most is the sound of silence.

38.  I like people.  I also like being alone.

39.  My greatest enjoyment is reading.

40.  I do not believe in UFOs.  I do not believe in superstition.  I do not believe in astrology.  I do not believe in faith-based healing or prayer.  I do believe in inquiry and science.

41.  I do not believe it is wrong to have tried and failed.  My life is filled with failures.

42.  No words offend me.  None whatsoever.  I have no regard for political correctness.  The older I get, the less I care what other people think.

43.  My favorite television shows at the moment are, in no particular order:  PBS Frontline, American Experience, 60 Minutes, John Oliver, This is Us, Suits, StarTalk, and anything that’s news or political.

44.  Celebrities aren’t particularly interesting to me.  The people I admire most are those who rarely get praise, particularly medical caregivers and those who work with animals, especially solving animal abuse cases.  I’m weak.  I do not think I could do those jobs, so I really admire those who do.

45.  The older I get, the less material possessions mean to me.  So long as I have a laptop, and internet connection, and some wine — I’m good.

46.  My preferred alcoholic drink is Johnny Walker Black, not only for taste but because it’s historically been the beverage of choice for Leftist revolutionaries.  I also have a soft spot for Jameson.

47.  I have no internal time clock.  I can work or read or sleep anytime of day or night.

48.  Despite being outgoing, I’m not into parties or social engagements, at all.  I despise making meaningless talk.

49.  I once ripped up an airline ticket, rented a car and drove from New Orleans to Las Vegas because Marieta found a wounded Ring-Necked Dove in the street and we didn’t want to leave it behind to die.  True story.

50.  I’m ridiculously fortunate to have wonderful family and friends, far better than I deserve.

51.  If I could do my life all over again, I’d make many different choices and decisions.  However, I would not change my essential belief systems.  I’m proud of my beliefs and my path to a personal philosophy.

52.  I’m still trying to decide what to do next and where to live the rest of my life.  When I figure that out, I’ll likely write about it.  Or, maybe I won’t.

53.  Writing is easy.  Editing is hard.

54.  I plan on writing a book over the next six months.  It’s a project that was shelved which I aspire returning to with fresh enthusiasm.

55. My first World Series of Poker was in 1985.  Since then, I’ve been to most of them.  However, I have probably worked my last WSOP.

 

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Viewer Discretion Advised (My Video Rants)

Posted by on Feb 6, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 1 comment

 

 

Making video rants are fun.

Sure, there’s the misery of the preamble, that painful period of time leading to a ballistic blow up.  That’s not fun at all.  However, doing a video rant is sort of like engaging what psychiatrist Arthur Janov coined as “Primal Scream Therapy.”  Janov charged his clients, which included many celebrities, hundreds if not thousands of dollars per hour to express their deepest emotions.  By contrast, making a video only requires a smartphone and the bravery to share one’s soul with the world.

I lost a wager on the Super Bowl yesterday.  My wager appeared to be a lock, until seconds were left in the game.  Then, the ice cream turned to shit.  I won’t go into details.  You can just watch this 8-minute clip for yourselves:

 

Alternative version of clip with reader comments can be seen on my FACEBOOK PAGE.

I watched yesterday’s Super Bowl at Russ Fox’s house, along with several friends.  Russ always does a nice job of hosting.  I have having a great time until the epic meltdown in the fourth quarter.  After getting into arguments with people about how stupid the Atlanta coaching staff was, electing to have QB Matt Ryan pass the ball with only a few minutes left in the game and a lead that should have been insurmountable, I drove home and was prepared to call it a night.  Another day.  Another bad beat.  Shit happens.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it might be a healthy outlet to make a video and let myself go.  I’ve done this a few times in the past, and I’d call it a win-win.  I have fun with the rants, and it sure feels good to let off some steam after losing thousands of dollars.  Viewers also seem to enjoy the rants.  I think every gambler can identify with the frustration of suffering a loss.

Here’s a similar video I made a few years ago after a devastating weekend where I lost almost every game.  This video runs longer, but has quite a plenty of red meat  [Viewer discretion advised]:

 

Rants can be fun, even on topics other than sports.  Here’s a much longer video I made a few years ago in reaction to the absurd Las Vegas Review Journal “Readers Poll,” an abomination which includes the public’s picks on the top restaurants and entertainment in Las Vegas.

This video begins calmly and then as I read the readers poll picks, I begin to lose it.  Enjoy!

 

Today’s a big day for me.  I’ll run a few errands and be back later with a special announcement and a pledge drive.

I need the money.

 

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